30 Days Wild – Day 30 – Things Ain’t Always What They Seem

Yet another hot day and another spent mostly at home, I am working tomorrow at Blashford when we have a volunteer task, although what we will do in this heat I am not sure just yet. The day started with a check thought the moth trap, it had caught 26 species including a few first for the year, these were buff footman, grey/dark dagger (another species pair that cannot be separated on sight alone), bird’s wing and a waved black.

waved black

waved black

The waved black is a relatively scarce and rather strange Noctuid moth, it looks like a Geometrid, sitting with wings flat and out to the sides. The larvae eat damp fungi and even lichens and slime moulds.

The hot sun meant the garden was full of insects throughout the day, generally we do not associate moths with hot sunny days but there is one group that only seem to fly in such conditions, the clearwings. The day was ideal for them and I managed to find one species new to the garden, the large red-belted clearwing.

large red-belted clearwing (male)

large red-belted clearwing (male)

Clearwings are very odd moths, they not only fly in bright sunshine, they don’t really look like moths with their largely scaleless wings and in flight they look more like wasps than moths. The larvae feed under the bark of coppiced birch and alder and pupate there also. At this stage I will confess that I did not just look for the moth, I used a pheromone lure. This is an artificially produced chemical that mimics that produced by the female moth to attract the males.

large red-belted clearwing coming to lure

large red-belted clearwing being lured in

To give an idea of the speed of flight the picture above was taken at 1/1250 sec. The moth flew in and circling the lure before landing.

large red-belted clearwing at lure

large red-belted clearwing at lure

After a couple of minutes the fact that there is no female present seems to sink in and they leave, I managed to attract at least three males in about 45 minutes. The lures are usually specific to certain species, I tried five different lures today and only this one attracted any moths. Without the use of lures I have seen only a handful of clearwings in forty years or so of looking for them, use a lure of the right sort on the right day and they just appear.

It was a good day for looking int he meadow so, for the last time….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Butterflies were very much in evidence with, appropriately enough, meadow brown being one of the most abundant.

meadow brown

meadow brown on field scabious

Small white, large white and small skipper were also much in evidence and there were also a couple of large skipper, a species I have only very occasionally seen in the garden in previous years.

large skipper 2

large skipper on field scabious

Field scabious is a great nectar source for insects and a great plant for a back garden meadow, it has bright showy flowers and a very long flowering season too. The picture shows the incredibly long tongue of the large skipper really well too, their tongues are more feeding tubes really, they reach to the nectar source and suck up the energy rich sugars.

Another great nectar plant is knapweed and these were alive with bees today, including lots of green-eyed flower bee, a small dumpy species with a very high pitched “buzz” that never seems to sit still for a picture.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee on knapweed

Where there are bees there are their followers, one such is the Conopid fly, there are several species and they intercept bees in flight and lay an egg that hooks between the bees abdominal segments, eventually hatching into a parasitic larva, not a pleasant story but it is extraordinary. There are several common species and the one I found was Sicus ferrugineus.

Conopid

Sicus ferrugineus

Juts as there are moths that fly in the daytime and pretend to be wasps there are also flies that pretend to be bees and wasps, some more convincingly than others. Most of the hoverflies in the garden are the various dronefly species that are fairly general bee mimics, but I also spotted one that was definitely more of a wasp mimic.

Xanthogramma pedissequum

Xanthogramma pedissequum

So this is the end of the 30 Days for another year, although I try to get a bit of “Wild” everyday, I may not get around to blogging about it daily. Thanks for your comments and if you have a garden try a mini-meadow, they are great fun and pretty good for wildlife too. Whatever you do, try to have as many Wild Days as you can!

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30 Days Wild – Day 24 – Up on the Downs and Down by the Sea

We travelled up to Martin Down in the morning, specifically Kitts Grave the part of the reserve that belongs to the Wildlife Trust. This area of the reserve is a patchwork of chalk grassland and scrub, this type of diverse, herb rich habitat with lots of shelter is preferred by lots of insects, it offers lots of possibilities.

musk thistle with marbled white 2

musk thistle and marbled white

Plants like thistles and knapweeds are very good nectar sources used by lots of insects.

greater knapweed

greater knapweed

The scrub offers both shelter and an additional variety of flowers, bramble being very important and popular. I found the large hoverfly Volucella inflata feeding on a bramble flower.

Volucella inflata

Volucella inflata (female)

As I was photographing it a male flew in and mating took place.

Volucella inflata pair mating

Volucella inflata pair mating

A few years ago when at Old Winchester Hill I found a rare bee-fly, the downland villa Villa cingulata , at the time it was only the second Hampshire record in recent times. It appears it has been spreading as I found several, easily five or more, egg-laying females at Kitts Grave, I am not sure if they are recorded from there before.

Downland Villa

Downland Villa Villa cingulata

We saw a good range of butterflies including very recently emerged silver-washed fritillary and white admiral.

We retired home during the heat of the afternoon so I was briefly in the garden….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

One plant I was keen to establish was lady’s bedstraw, it has tiny yellow flowers unlike most of our bedstraws which have white flowers. It grows on dry chalk soils mainly but also turns up on dry sandy areas even in acid areas.

lady's bedstraw

lady’s bedstraw

I seem to have only got one plant to establish but it is spreading to form quiet a significant patch.

Once the day started to cool we ventured down to the coast to Lepe Country Park. Years ago I established another meadow area at this site, although in this case it was from a deep ploughed cereal field, it is now a SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) for its wildflower community. Creating grasslands of real wildlife value is relatively easy and gets quick results, helping to redress the massive loss of these habitats. Planting trees is much more popular, despite the fact that it will probably take hundreds of years for them to achieve significant value for wildlife. As anyone who manages open habitat will know trees will colonise and grow quite happily without encouragement. In fact colonising trees are one of the threats to herb-rich grasslands.

However we were on the beach, looking at beach species. Stabilised sand and shingle has its own specialist plants, one of which is sea spurge.

sea spurge

sea spurge

Rather more attractive is the yellow-horned poppy.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

The long pods which give this poppy its name can be seen in this shot.

It was getting late and there were lots of small moths flying about, in the end I managed to get a picture of one, it was a Pyralid moth, quite a common one found in a variety of dry habitats, called Homoeosoma sinuella.

Homoeosoma sinuella

Homoeosoma sinuella

Off the beach an adult gannet was flying about, quite a regular sight in The Solent these days.

30 Days Wild – Day 2 – Hawks and Dragons

Once again a day off at home trying to work in the garden, but the sun was a bit much so productivity was rather low!

However the day started with a look through the moth trap, most of the moths would have been attracted before midnight when it was warmer, but as the minimum was 14 degrees some will have been active throughout. The pick of the catch were a couple of hawk-moths.

lime hawkmoth

lime hawk-moth

Lime hawk caterpillars eat the leaves of lime trees, but also birch. Many hawk-moths are named after the larval foodplant, or at least one of them. The privet hawk-moth caterpillars eat privet, but also lilac and ash, it is our largest resident hawk-moth.

privet hawkmoth

privet hawk-moth

Other moths caught were buff-tip, heart and dart, treble lines, flame shoulder, light brocade and fox moth.

The sun brought a few butterflies out, I saw a male common blue and a female brimstone in the garden during the early afternoon.

brimstone female on storksbill

female brimstone nectaring on storksbill

The sun also encouraged a fair few hoverflies to feed on flowers in the borders.

dronefly on fox and cubs

Dronefly Eristalis horticola on fox and cubs

Eventually I gave up on the garden and went out for a walk in the New Forest, luckily I live close enough not to need to drive there. The recent wet weather has filled a lot of the small ponds and each one seemed to have a broad-bodied chaser or two.

broad-bodied chaser male

broad-bodied chaser male

There were also good numbers of emperor and four-spotted chaser too.

The New Forest is one of the largest areas of semi-natural open space in Southern England, although a “Forest” it has a lot of wide open treeless areas. This is because a forest in this context is a place where deer were hunted rather than, as we tend to think today, a place dominated by trees. To pick up on the theme of Jo’s post of the other day and also highlight a particular problem within the Forest, I did see a couple of invasive alien species on my short walk. Both were attractive escapes from cultivation and wetland species.

invasive iris

Iris laevigata growing in a New Forest mire

In the background of this shot is another invasive, the white water-lily.

white water-lily

white water-lily

Finally………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Although it is perhaps not really a meadow plant I do have a few wild carrot plants in the meadow, like all umbellifers they are very attractive to insects, so I allow them in. The flowers are only just opening and actually look rather interesting just before the flowers open with the head enclosed caged.

wild carrot

wild carrot flower head just about to open.

Two days gone, just another 28 to go!

30 Days Wild – Day 1

A day off and mostly at home, so a chance to see the garden during the day. As my garden will feature from time to time in the blog over the “30 Wild Days” I will provide a bit of background.

A bit of research shows that it is very close to being an average UK garden, apparently the average back garden is 190 square metres, I think mine is almost exactly this. Like about 3.5 million UK gardens it has a pond, even if a very small one. We have two trees over 3m tall and one just under so close to the 2.4 average number of trees. 7 million gardens have bird feeders, around 60% of all gardens, and 4 million have bird boxes and we have these too. It is located in suburbia, although close to open countryside and surrounded by housing.

There are ways in which it departs from the average though, about 50 square metres are left to grow as a mini-meadow. This area is in its fourth year of meadow management and it is starting to look quite good. It has developed by a combination of mowing once a year with the cuttings removed and some seeding. I have not entirely gone for local native species, but they are the main component.

meadow

Back garden meadow

I am going to do a little daily “feature” within the blog entitled…

What’s in my meadow today?

yellow rattle

yellow rattle

In the meadow picture you can probably make out some yellow flowers that are not buttercup, these are yellow rattle, it is both a traditional element in a hay meadow and one that was not desirable if you wanted a good crop of hay. It is an annual that has seeds contained within the inflated calyx and as they dry they rattle, hence the name. As the hay was raked up the seeds would fall out, scattered about as the hay was turned. It was undesirable because it is semi-parasitic on other plants and often on grasses, so lots of yellow rattle meant less grass and so a poorer hay crop. In a back garden meadow it is useful as it reduces the vigour of the grasses making them less competitive and allowing the flowery herb species to prosper. The rattle is also a good nectar source in its own right being popular with bees in particular.

It was not a very sunny day but fairly warm and there were a few insects about, one of the largest hoverflies in the garden was a Sericomyia silentis, it is also one of the more attractive species.

Sericomyia silentis

Sericomyia silentis

One of the species that probably occurs in every garden int he country, is the garden snail, whilst they can be a nuisance in the vegetable patch are rather attractive in their own way. They can live for five years or more and will both hibernate to avoid the cold in winter and aestivate to avoid drought in summer.

garden snail

garden snail Helix aspersa

Hover Bother and Getting a Goat (Monday)

After yesterday’s attempt at a picture of a flying hoverfly I had to have another go today and I got the chance on my way round to close up at the end of the day. Yesterday’s was a Syrphus species, today’s was Volucella pellucens.

Volucella pellucens

Volucella pellucens in flight

The warm nights are improving things in the moth trap with catches increasing in number and species diversity. The highlight overnight was a very fresh male goat moth.

goat moth

goat moth

These extraordinary moths have caterpillars that eat wood by tunnelling into live trees, especially willows. As wood is not very nutritious they take several years to grow to full size.

It is also proving a good year for butterflies, with most species well up on recent years on the transects. Just now the summer brood of comma are very obvious, nectaring on bramble and just perched out in the sunshine.

comma

Comma, this one has received some damage to the left wings.

Dragon and damselflies are also enjoying the warmer summer with good numbers of most species. The only ones that were scarce seem to have been the spring species, possibly because last year’s spring was so poor there were few to hatch this year even though the conditions were good. So far I have failed to add any new species to the reserve list, despite there being several that could wander here, especially from the New Forest. For instance there is the scarce blue-tailed damselfly, which could easily get blown in and is known to wander from breeding sites. It is rather similar to the much commoner blue-tailed damselfly, which may be one reason why we have so far failed to find one.

blue-tailed damselfly

blue-tailed damselfly (male)

 

Still Wild After all These Days

Summer moves on, at Blashford on Sunday I saw my first gatekeeper of the year, oddly a little later than in some years, most other butterflies have been merging a little earlier than usual, so I am not sure why they alone are later.

gatekeeper

The first gatekeeper at the year

It was also the first day I had seen brown hawker dragonfly, although I would guess they have been flying for a couple of days. The first common tern chicks also flew, even if a little tentatively, hopefully we will see over seventy fledge this year. Another first for the year was Essex skipper, they at every like small skipper, but tend to fly a couple of weeks later.

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

At least I think it is an Essex skipper!

I had another go at getting a flight shot of a hoverfly, a very frustrating thing to try, this was my best attempt.

hoverfly

hoverfly

I went on a walk down the Dockens Water to check where we will need to go Himalayan balsam pulling and if we have missed any plants. I found a few, but also a number of native marshland plants.

marsh bedstraw

marsh bedstraw

water forget-me-not

water forget-me-not

30 Days Wild – Day 4: A Day for Orchids

After working in the morning with the Sunday volunteer team path trimming, I got out on site for an hour or so in the afternoon. This is peak orchid flowering time, we don’t get many at Blashford and this year’s dry spring seems to have done them no favours, however I did see four species. First was a small group of bee orchid near the Goosander hide.

bee orchid

bee orchid flower

The packet of pollen, known as pollinia can be seen hanging down in the centre, there would have been two, so one has probably been carried away by a visiting insect.

I also found single specimens of common spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

and also a southern marsh orchid.

marsh orchid

southern marsh orchid

I also came across a common twayblade, but it was too dark for a picture.

The sunshine was a bit on and off, even with a brief shower at one point, but in the sunnier periods there were quite good numbers of insects out and about. My best picture of an insect today was of a hoverfly Xylota sylvarum, a very fine species with a golden-haired tip to the abdomen.

Xylota sylvarum

Xylota sylvarum, doing a bit of wing cleaning.

My last thing to do for the day was to clean out and feed the puss moth caterpillars, hatched from some eggs laid by a female I caught in the trap. Rearing caterpillars is one of those things I enjoy doing each year, the species vary according to what we come across, in recent years we have reared lime hawk-moth, eyed hawk-moth, iron prominent and alder moth amongst others.

puss moth young caterpillar

A young puss moth caterpillar, they get very impressive when they are fully grown.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 30!

 

Well it has been a wild 30 Days. I started as a citizen of the EU watching puffins in the sunshine, I ended it pulling nettles in a country with a parliament in meltdown, one party with no leader and one leader with no party. It has been a weird 30 Days and one that we will not forget in a hurry. You never know what the future holds, but just now this feeling seems especially strong. However those puffins are still there, but now feeding their pufflings, and all that wild is out there and one certainty is that we need it to keep on being there. Doing a “Wild thing” reminds us that most of the world goes on, empires rise and fall but (hopefully) puffins will go on and on, along with all the rest of the great and glorious wild.

I have looked for the “Wild things” on Skomer, from the car driving up the M42, in my back garden and, of course, at Blashford Lakes and in at least some small way found some wild everywhere.

My last Wild Day was spent at Blashford, in the morning I was working with the volunteers where we were continuing to clear nettles along the paths. At lunchtime, sitting at one of the picnic tables, a smallish hoverfly caught my attention when it landed on the table top.

Chalcosyrphus nemorum 2

Chalcosyrphus nemorum

It is a woodland species, often found in wet alder woods, so I would guess it could be quite common in the alder carr next to the Centre. Seen up close it is very smart, with a highly polished thorax and a slightly comical quiff.

Despite a forecast that seemed to promise rain in the afternoon, it actually cleared up somewhat and there were insects about and the reptile surveyors reported their best survey of the year in the southern area of the reserve. The grass snake was out again by Ivy South hide and pleasing photographers.

I had to go to Roydon Woods to collect some materials, but as I went to my car to set off I saw this little bug on a dark mullein plant by the car park.

 

Grypocoris stysi

Grypocoris stysi

Amongst the more interesting reports from around the reserve today were the great crested grebe on Ivy Lake having two chicks and the common scoter being seen again on Ibsley Water.

Although the evening was mainly cloudy it remained warm and I went out in my garden to see what last Wild I could find. I quickly came across a female small white roosting in the “meadow”.

small white

roosting small white

I love their spotted eyes, something you can never normally appreciate.

I know I probably get to do more Wild Things than most people and I am very thankful for it, I am not sure I could get on very well without at least some wildlife in every day. Even today we are still surrounded by wildlife, not as much as I would like and often we fail to see it. We could probably all benefit from opening our eyes more and taking a little time to really see what is living alongside us.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 12

We had another National Moth Night event at Blashford on Sunday, although only a few people attended I think they all had a good time looking at a fair range of moth species and photographing a good number of them.

Out on the reserve the mute swan pair on the Ivy Silt Pond were feeding on a floating mat of branched bur-reed with their six small cygnets. Actually I must check that this is actually branched bur-reed rather than one of the other species, the New Forest is home to the much rarer floating bur-reed.

mite swan family feeding

mute swan pair and cygnets

The day was mostly dull with rain threatening, but right at the end it brightened somewhat and a few insects started to fly including my first Leucozona lucorum of the year. These hoverflies look a bit like bees, but are not that convincing compared with some other species, but perhaps the resemblance is good enough for some predators to avoid them.

Leucozona

Leucozona lucorum

It was even warm enough in the end to tempt out some grass snake and I managed to snap this one near the Centre, I think the milky eyes indicate it is about to shed its skin, which might also be why I was able to get so close.

grass snake

grass snake

A Sticky Day

I had a public event to look at moths today, a pretty tricky thing to do as there were almost no moths in the trap! Luckily Jim had kept a few back in the fridge from yesterday. Still it was thin fare, as sometimes happens at this time of year when the nights can still be cold. Despite this by the time we had finished the sun was out strongly and there were lots of insects about, although few of them were moths.

Near the Centre pond there were a few hoverflies including the common marshland species Tropida scita.

Tropida scita

Tropida scita, male

Rather less common and possibly a new species for the reserve, but I will need to check the list, was Pipizella virens.

Pipizella virens

Pipizella virens, male

Just when I thought it was going to be a really good insect day, the rain arrived and when it rained it really poured! I retreated to the office, probably something I should have done anyway.

It did clear up somewhat later and a visitor called my attention to a water stick insect in  the Centre pond, it had pulled itself out of the water onto the top of a floating bit of plant stem. Close by were several two-pronged “things” sticking out of the stem, I had noticed these earlier and not known what they were. It slowly dawned that they were water stick insect eggs and this was a laying female inserting her eggs into the floating stem.

water stick insect egg-laying 2

water stick insect egg-laying

Each egg has two white “wires” sticking up from it, their function is apparently unknown, but could be a sort of breathing tube for the developing embryo. This female did not get to lay eggs for very long, before a male came along and disturbed her, as she tried to get away he grabbed her breathing tube with his front legs, he seemed very keen not to let her free.

stick insect pair

stick insect pair, although the female did not seem that interested.

I had never seen any of this behaviour before, although I have looked into this pond probably thousands of times, it just shows that you don’t need to go very far to see interesting and new things.

Apart from insects the day was quiet, certainly the birds seen were mostly unremarkable. There were about 300 swift over Ibsley Water during the lunchtime rain and 2 yellow-legged gull in the large group of, mostly immature, large gulls loafing around on the shingle spit and islands.